FORT WORTH, Texas – Sam Hornish Jr. has won three races in Texas and clinched two series titles at the track – in a much different kind of car.
“Two totally different ends of the spectrum,” Hornish said Thursday before NASCAR Nationwide qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway was canceled because of rain. “There’s not really anything that you can transfer from Indy cars to here.”
The three-time IndyCar Series champion clinched the 2001 and 2002 season titles in finales at Texas and won the IRL race at the track last June. But the Penske driver doesn’t believe that gives him any advantage as a Sprint Cup rookie who is also making his first Nationwide start of the season this weekend at the high-banked 11/2-mile track.
“Most of the time I feel better going to places that I’ve never been to before than places I’ve been to in Indy cars before,” Hornish said. “Because sometimes it’s easier to pick up on what these cars like versus kind of getting over the habits you had driving the Indy car.”
After a late-afternoon thunderstorm soaked the track, the field for Saturday’s O’Reilly 300 was set by owners’ points. Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, both in Chevrolets, start on the front row.
Harvick, whose No. 33 is No. 1 in owner points and will start on the inside of the front row, has won four of his seven Nationwide starts at Texas. He won last November and has never finished lower than 11th. Since finishing 21st at Daytona, Harvick has been seventh or better his last four Nationwide starts this season.
Bowyer tops the driver points, putting him on the outside of the front row. He has four top-10 finishes, with a win, in the first six races.
Hornish failed to qualify for Nationwide races at Las Vegas and Bristol, and will start at the back of the 43-car field Saturday. But he was 12th-fastest in practice Thursday with a lap of 182.192 mph.
Because Hornish’s No. 77 Sprint Cup car is 36th in owner points, he will have to qualify on time to get into Sunday’s Samsung 500. Qualifying is Friday.
At Texas, no IRL driver has more top-five finishes (seven) or laps led (446) than Hornish. He also won the closest open-wheel race at the track, .0096 second over Helio Castroneves in 2002, led a record 159 laps last June and was the youngest winner in 2001 at age 22.
But in his only NASCAR race at Texas last fall, Hornish started 15th and finished 31st, six laps off Harvick’s pace.
“I knew that it was going to be difficult. That’s why I wanted to come over and do it,” Hornish said. “I felt that I could be comfortable in the rest of my racing career running Indy cars, but I know that sometimes it’s better to put yourself out there and see what you’re made of more so than just being comfortable all the time.”
Already the only three-time IndyCar Series champion, with that elusive Indianapolis 500 already in hand, Hornish made the full-time move from Penske’s open-wheel team to NASCAR this season.
“Being 28 years old, if things don’t work out, there’s still a lot of time left to go in my racing career,” he said.